The History of Paper Production

June 18, 2024

At Boise Paper, we’re proud to be part of a rich tradition that spans millennia. The story of paper production is one of innovation, perseverance and transformation. As documented by the American Forest & Paper Association, the fascinating history of paper has been a long journey, from its ancient beginnings to the state-of-the-art processes used today.

Ancient origins: from symbols to sheets

Before the invention of paper, early humans used various materials to communicate. Tree bark, cave walls, papyrus, and clay tablets served as canvases for their symbols and pictures. These early methods laid the groundwork for more advanced forms of communication.

Around 2,000 years ago, Chinese inventors took a significant leap forward. They began crafting cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings, creating the paper we recognize today. The first true paper is attributed to Ts’ai Lun, a Chinese court official. It is believed that Ts’ai Lun combined mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, creating a pulp. This pulp was then pressed, dried and transformed into sheets of paper.

The spread of papermaking: from China to the world

For several centuries, the secrets of papermaking were closely guarded within China. However, during the 8th century, approximately 300 years after Ts’ai Lun’s innovation, the art of papermaking began to spread to the Middle East. It took another 500 years for this craft to reach Europe. One of the earliest paper mills in Europe was established in Spain, and soon, mills were producing paper across the continent.

As the process became more widespread and refined, paper became an essential medium for printing important books, bibles and legal documents. By the late 15th century, England had developed significant paper manufacturing capabilities and supplied the American colonies with paper for various needs.

The birth of American papermaking

In 1690, the first paper mill in the U.S. was established in Pennsylvania. Initially, American mills utilized the Chinese method of shredding old rags and clothes into fibers to produce paper. However, as the demand for paper grew, mills transitioned to using wood fibers, which were more abundant and cost-effective than cloth.

The paper industry today

At Boise Paper, we continue the tradition of innovation in paper production. Today, our paper is made from trees grown in sustainably managed forests and produced in mills right here in the U.S. The paper industry continues to evolve with advancements in technology and changing consumer needs, but paper remains a vital part of everyday life, whether for printing important documents, creating art, or simply jotting down notes.


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